VELLORE: On a hectic evening, Uma*, a final year nursing student, was called for emergency duty at the COVID ward at the Govt Vellore Medical College Hospital (GVMCH). Anxiety gripped the 23-year-old as the pandemic had been snuffing out lives in quick time and she had never stepped into a COVID ward. It was going to be a new experience for her.
It turned out to be a nightmare. Once she donned the personal protection equipment (PPE), she could not wriggle out of it even for a minute. The night moved agonisingly slowly unlike other days as she was unable to sip a drop of water or pop a chocolate.
For Raghavan*, a non-medical supervisor employed with the public health department, not a single day passes without stepping into localities where people are infected with the virus.
So is the case with block health officers, block medical officers, village health nurses, sector health nurses and community health nurses who are employed with the public health department.
They have to turn up at virus affected areas to check those who are infected, their family members and close contacts, collect swabs and distribute medicines and herbal concoctions.
Be it on the field or at healthcare institutions, frontline workers suffer due to long working hours, heavy workload and lack of adequate safety gear, putting their personal health at risk.
“I have to work for at least eight hours without rest. It is debilitating to the body. If I can get rest for a short time, it will help recoup energy but I can’t do it given the workload,” says a village health nurse of Ranipet.
Technicians at laboratories work long hours to finish the tests to obtain the results of samples early so that positive patients can be taken for treatment and their families quarantined.
The recent deaths of a sector health nurse Kalaivani of Thimiri, an assistant head nurse Prema of GVMCH, a police special sub inspector and a clerk with the agriculture department have left frontline workers in shock.
“The authorities should consider slashing the shift timings so that we can get some rest and energise the body before resuming the next day’s work,” suggests a village health nurse.
A health inspector says, “Sometimes we find a shortage of safety gear such as masks, gloves and santisers. These essential items should be made available in adequate quantity.”
Above all, what the health workers want is regularising the temporary staff recruited on consolidated pay.
“If the temporary staff are regularised at least now when the pandemic is peaking and claiming a lot of lives, it will assure them a kind of social security,” urges Raghavan.
Plea to hike stipend for nursing students
Nursing students have urged the government to consider increasing the stipend in the wake of drafting them for COVID ward duties. A nursing student is entitled to Rs 750 stipend per month. While doing COVID duty they have to stay at hostels where they pay Rs 1500 mess bill a month.
“They are extracting work from us as much as from regular nurses. So we should be given a hike in stipend or remuneration for the duty at COVID wards,” demands a nursing student employed at GVMCH.